Falmouth may have to pay back nearly $5 million in federal stimulus funds it received to construct one of its wind turbines.
The state Department of Environmental Protection released the federal money to the town in 2010 as a loan that would become a grant once the town’s second wind turbine project is complete.
But with about a month until Falmouth’s town meeting is scheduled to vote on whether to remove its two municipal turbines, the town has not filed paperwork with the DEP to certify the second one as a completed project.
The town is possibly facing millions of dollars in costs to remove its two 1.65-megawatt turbines, Wind 1 and Wind 2, from the wastewater treatment plant on Blacksmith Shop Road. The turbines have become a flashpoint because some town residents say they cause health problems.
Selectmen are scheduled Monday to vote on their recommendations for warrant articles for the annual and special town meetings on April 8 and 9. Three of the articles would collectively order the decommissioning and removal of the turbines.
Town Manager Julian Suso has estimated it will cost $5 million to $15 million to remove them, partly depending on whether money received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or so-called stimulus funds, have to be repaid.
But even as the town discusses dismantling them, it is still in the process of finalizing contracts and payments with contractors who worked on the Wind 2 project, said wastewater Superintendent Gerald Potamis, who oversees the two turbines.
“We want the project to be closed out,” said Potamis, who said he hopes to file paperwork with the DEP next week. “It’s my hope that we have that closed out by town meeting.”
At a closed-door meeting between state and town officials last month, town officials were told Falmouth may be responsible for paying back the stimulus money, said officials who attended.
That uneasy feeling
The state’s seemingly lukewarm reaction toward town officials’ request for loan forgiveness and financial support to take down the turbines left an uneasy feeling with Selectman Kevin Murphy, board chairman.
“The state appears to be very guarded and kind of, not as enthusiastic as some folks had said the state would be,” said Murphy. “We have to realize we might not get as much financial assistance from the state as we thought.”
In an email statement, state Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia, who attended the meeting, said it was part of an ongoing dialogue and that his department will continue to engage with Falmouth.
Suso, who also attended, said state officials have not committed to a timeline in determining when they will decide how much assistance they will provide Falmouth and if Falmouth will be charged for the stimulus money.
No comps available
Without any comparable examples to Falmouth’s situation, how much state assistance the town should receive in taking the turbines down is a question without an easy answer, Suso said. The possibility of the town removing the turbines also complicates the question of whether the stimulus funds should be repaid.
“Bottom line, this seems to be a different set of circumstances than what was expected,” Suso said.
Unless state officials announce details by Monday, the selectmen likely will indefinitely postpone issuing recommendations, Murphy said. In that case, selectmen will make their official decision on whether to endorse the articles on the town meeting floor.
Suso said Wednesday that he hopes to have more information soon from state officials, but there is no guarantee.
“We certainly all are equally anxious about this.”
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